Heyward's behind-the-scenes influence on Suzuki hot start


Seiya Suzuki is off to a historic start offensively with the Cubs.

And that might not even be the most impressive part of his acclimation to the big leagues after a nine-year career in Japan’s NPB.

Entering Monday’s series opener against the Rays, Suzuki has not committed an error in eight games he’s played the field, a stretch that includes three games at Wrigley Field.

Suzuki won five Gold Glove Awards in Japan, so even in a small sample size, what he’s done defensively so far is no surprise. But he’s also received valuable feedback behind the scenes from a fellow Gold Glove outfielder: Jason Heyward.

“He’s a player with a lot of experience,” Suzuki said of Heyward through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “He talks about what the goods and bads are of the hitter when we’re defending. 

“It really helps me a lot. He’s been a huge influence for me.”

Wrigley Field has one of the trickiest right fields in the major leagues. Suzuki said the sun shines directly at him and noted the wind being another factor.

There’s also limited space down the foul line, a well in the right field corner and a brick wall behind the ivy that can lead to unexpected caroms. 

The tricky corner was a factor on Opening Day. Brewers DH Andrew McCutchen hit a fly ball down the right field line that appeared to be going foul, and watched it out of the batter’s box. It dropped just inside the line and McCutchen hustled for a double.

Heyward, who shifted to center field this season with Suzuki’s arrival, has won five Gold Glove Awards in right field in his career — two with the Cubs. He knows Wrigley’s right field as well as anybody.

“It's a tough outfield to play, one of the toughest in baseball,” Heyward said. “But I think we've just done a good job as a whole admitting, ‘Hey, the sun is tough today, at this time,’ and we check in with each other every pitch, every other pitch.”

Heyward said he and Ian Happ have worked with the Cubs new outfielders to help them prepare for Wrigley and get a better idea of what to expect. 

Even with that preparation, it’s still a tough outfield to play. Whether it’s the elements changing, a new pitcher taking the mound or something else, the outfielders communicating and making any necessary adjustments mid-game are keys.

“J-Hey is important in so many aspects of one, his leadership and his experience for sure,” manager David Ross said. “We've already talked mid-game just about making sure spacing wise for Seiya, he's helping him out. 

“[Heyward] knows that spot as good as anybody, so they're communicating out there. He's doing a really nice job of being the captain of that outfield.”

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